Stand & deliver

Nominally a poetry competition, Slam offers an outlet for the more creative among us to express themselves on stage.

By Le Diem on March 10,2016 08:03 AM

Stand & deliver

‘Art

That would be a start

Share art

The poetry, the music, the drawings or whatever it is

That resonates from your being

Share these things that are worth seeing

That draw upon meaning …’

As Shauna Mc Coole began to recite her poem at a Hanoi Slam night, a hush descended upon Mojito Bar and Lounge despite it being packed with dozens of people. Some of the audience sat on their chair and rested their chin on one hand, others leant against the wall, and a few stood at the back. All eyes were fixed on the stage.

As she finished her poem a huge round of applause followed, as did a lot of smiles. It was not the first time she has had such an experience in Vietnam.

With a big love for theatre and poetry, Shauna, a freelance theatre writer and performer from Ireland, has read poetry since she was young. Only in recent years, though, after coming to Vietnam and joining Hanoi Slam has she performed poetry. ‘I do love spoken-word poetry because it can bring theatre and poetry together,’ she said. As slam (poetry competitions) has become more and more popular around the world it has given her the chance to both perform and share her poems.

Stand & deliver

Thanks to Joss Berrett, an Australian musician, and his wife Annetta DeVet, who founded Hanoi Slam in 2013, slam has become popular in Vietnam among both local people and expats, many of whom, like Shauna, never knew about it before.

Hanoi Slam was inspired from The Moth, a storytelling competition among both raconteurs and novices about their true tales, which is popular in Annetta’s homeland of the US. ‘When we came here we didn’t see anything similar, so we wanted to bring it to the country,’ Joss said. Slam is also good practice for people to become more confident, which is important to Joss. He used to be shy before getting to know about and performing hip-hop. So it makes him feel good to encourage others to find confidence.

Joss and Annetta also aim, through each event of Hanoi Slam, to raise funds for the NGO Humanitarian Services for the Children of Vietnam. For this reason there’s usually a door charge of VND50,000-100,000 and those wish to donate more are welcome to do so. ‘There are around 60-80 people at each event and we hope that our bit of support can help Vietnamese children,’ said Joss.

Not only poetry lovers are attracted to and welcome at Hanoi Slam. After arriving in Hanoi, William Phipps, an English teacher from the US, found he had a lot of free time and wanted to find an interest to keep him busy. In the process he came upon Hanoi Slam and wanted to share his writing. Loren Hendin, another English teacher from Canada who performs puppetry shows with a friend for fun, received an unexpected invitation from Hanoi Slam to join in. Thanks to social networks like Facebook and Hanoi Massive, word-of-mouth, and the efforts of Hanoi Slam’s organisers, slam reached a lot of people quite easily.

Each show has a theme, be it love, courage, or something about Hanoi, which are explored by poets and storytellers alike. ‘Telling a story or performing poetry is simpler than theatre,’ Shauna said. ‘You only need to focus on one thing, write it down and then share it if you want to.’

Different slammers also make it more interesting, like those with rhythmic hip-hop or rappers or singers. Since it is true and original and every voice is expressive, the shows move between documentary and theatre, creating a unique, intimate, and often enlightening experience for the audience.

Minh Quan, a local student who just happened to be at Mojito Bar, found his curiosity piqued. ‘It’s interesting and fun,’ he said. ‘The performers are confident and creative and made me laugh or look at something in a new way. I might try it myself one day.’

Confidence comes to the performers by different routes. Shauna tries to memorise. She could use notes but believes it’s better if she doesn’t. But it can be daunting, as one forgotten word might see her lose the whole thread. So she practises in the mirror during the week leading up to the show. William sometimes asks his friends to listen to his writing before he takes the stage but really prefers just going with the flow on the night. Although Loren prefers spontaneity, she always brings something in the way of preparation.

Despite appearances, however, they all have a tingle of nerves as their slot approaches. While William needed some ‘liquid courage’ before taking the stage, Loren felt as though her hands betrayed her with their shaking. Even Shauna, no newcomer to theatre, has had similar experiences. ‘When I perform a play it’s much easier because I act in character,’ she explained. ‘It’s like you have a mask, so you feel comfortable. But when you tell your story it’s personal and easier to feel vulnerable. So it makes me nervous.’ Nerves are good though, she said, and add to the excitement.

And as you finish the nerves are gone but the excitement remains. By the end Shauna feels like she’s accomplished something creative and found a way to discover herself and then share it with others. Loren has a lot of fun in also sharing poems she loves with the audience, which includes many strangers besides friends who are willing to spend their Friday nights hearing the stories of others.

Despite slam being a competition with the audience deciding the winner, there’s little in the way of judgement and they warmly applaud and appreciate all the performers. So whether you’re on stage or in the crowd everyone receives a ‘prize’. A good time is had by all, Joss said, and ‘you can share something, meet many people, and listen to beautiful stories that can give you goose bumps and touch your heart.’

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